Looking at threats and problems that are or could occur is one of the major things that the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation do. We are constantly in touch with Government and other bodies about issues such as trapping, snaring, medication, welfare, best practise and all manner of subjects that seem to constantly raise their head, sometime singularly but often all at once. One that was rather under publicised has been the possible problem of Avian Influenza or Bird Flu. Little is spoken about bird flu within shooting people who recently have been far more concerned with the lead debate which now seems to have finally been put to bed. Bird flu is something that all shoots should be talking about and making plans just in case we get the worst case scenario which could end game shooting for that season and putting keeper’s jobs and homes at risk.

What is Bird Flu
Avian influenza is a disease (caused by a virus) which can affect poultry, wildfowl and game, as well as wild birds. All strains are notifiable and you should report all suspected cases to the Animal & Plant Health Agency & your vet. Some strains are highly pathogenic, others ‘low path’ (from which birds may recover) and some (eg H5N1) carry a risk of mutation into a human form, which could be fatal – hence all the concern.

What Control Measures are put in place
If Bird Flu/Avian Influenza/AI is confirmed then the premises or infected area (wild birds) will be put under control measures. These will vary with the type of disease and whether it has been found in reared or wild birds. Typically, there can't be any movement of birds or bird products from the infected premises - for a game farm in June, July or August this could be a disaster. A restricted zone will also be put in place - this can be a 6 mile (10km) circle around the outbreak. In these restricted zones, no birds or bird products are to be moved. This includes gamebirds and there is also an automatic ban on any gamebird releasing within the circle. If shot game is shot within the circle it cannot be moved and in the case of an outbreak of H5N1 in wild birds, shooting itself will be banned out to 10km or however large the restricted zone is in order to try to prevent moving infected wild birds around.

Game Farms / Rearing Fields
An outbreak on a game farm or rearing field would be dire for the owners as all birds must be destroyed, whether infected or healthy. The government will pay compensation for the cost of the healthy birds culled by order but only at their current value and not allowing for any profit you might make. Likewise for a shoot - if you are ordered to destroy birds, you will only get back what they cost, not what you might get for them. You are not able to restock for at least 21 days and after a deep clean done by DEFRA. Elelments of this (the ‘secondary cleansing’) are charged to the owner of the infected premises and the costs for a poultry farm, for example, can run to six figures.

Worst Case for shooting
Just imagine an outbreak of bird flu on a UK Turkey farm in Devon, Exmoor on 15th June.
Imagine it is confirmed as H5N1 - the infamous stain of the disease. A restricted zone will be put in place of 10km - no movements of birds to shoots or from game farms. A further surveillance zone will also be implemented - which picks up on another case to the East along the M4 - further 10km restricted zones will be put in place. Quite quickly we could have huge areas of the country not able to move or release pheasants, partridge or ducks, effectively stopping shooting for that season.

Not only in the UK
Bird Flu knows no boundaries or boarders, an outbreak in France, Poland or Spain could have far reaching consequences for game shooting in the UK at the wrong time of year. The UK shoots rely heavily on imports from these countries for eggs and more recently poults. The same control measures apply in Europe as they do in the UK so it would restrict the movement of birds. If outbreaks get out of control some countries would stop all bird products from all regions coming through the borders. This heavy reliance on European imports troubles me.

So what can we do about it?

If the above has worried you, good – because understanding how AI or the controls put in place to manage it might affect your sport or your business is the first step towards the only possible mitigation, CONTINGENCY PLANNING.

Sooner or later Bird Flu will affect game producers, importers and or shoots in the UK. We have been lucky that only one of the past outbreaks, of which the UK averages one a year, has been in the summer months but luck could change.

Everyone needs to be thinking about their supply lines: eggs, chicks or poults in; shot game out. Where does it come from, where does it go? How would you cope if those supply lines were stopped or your downstream market closed off? Can you spread your risk by sourcing from different places? Are you over-reliant on imports? Are you insured – at least to pay for secondary cleansing costs if you were billed for them. Some new insurance policies for bird flu now also offer ‘business interruption’ compensation. Look into it.

The more visual threats to our sport and way of life are social media and celebrity so called conservationists trying to make a loud noise, but in reality our largest problem could be a simple lack of planning.